“I Hear the Barking of Dogs, and Feel the End is Near” - Homeless in Gaza

Wednesday 3 March 202112:56 pm
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"أسمع نباح الكلاب فأشعر باقتراب نهايتنا"... عائلات تركت منازلها في غزة لأسباب اقتصادية

“Do you know what it means to be without a home – it means that you have become just like your fathers and forefathers who were expelled from their homes by the occupation in the 1948 Nakba. You have inherited their oppression, despair and loss, but the difference is that they were fighters and we are outlaws” Abu Khaled says after being evicted from his home for not paying his rent.

Abu Khaled, 40, works as a clothes vendor in Gaza’s local street market. Due to poor economic conditions, his financial situation has deteriorated, and he was unable to pay his rent, eventually he was evicted along with his family.

“Neither Landlord nor Tenant”

“Life became difficult for me, and all the doors were shut in my face. We could not find a place to live in. We are neither property owners, nor are we able to rent,” Abu Khaled tells Raseef22.

He took refuge in al-Saraya park, despite his wife’s objections. She told him, “Are you happy becoming a spectacle for people to stare at and ridicule?” He replied with, “Are you happy with us continuing to sleep on the street.”

He goes on to tell Raseef22, “I arrived at the al-Saraya park, and indeed I did what I had sought out to do. I set up a tent and lived in it with my wife and children. Its walls became the furniture of our humble home.”

Then the color of his face changed as he continued, “I was looking for a wire to tie the door of the tent with when I heard the voice of my little boy asking: We live here?”

He adds, “I rushed like a mad man saying: What is it, my dear? I found a policeman that had stopped him to ask why he was out this late in a public square like al-Saraya park.”

You know what it means to be without a home; it means we are just like your forefathers–expelled from their homes in the 1948 Nakba. You inherit their oppression, despair and loss, but the difference is they are fighters and we are outlaws

Abu Khaled says that he told the officer that he set up the tent as his current dwelling “until things get better someday,” but the security officer disapproved, saying, “By God, it’s a bad excuse. Now your case is not just with us, but with the municipality police also.”

Abu Khaled continues his story, smiling sadly, “Honestly anyone that does not have any luck shouldn’t even try or work hard. I did not leave the center before signing a pledge to take the tent down. When I took it down, it was like I was removing a piece from my own body, because it stands as a witness to the tragedy that we are living through.”

He concluded saying, “I saved myself the indignity and degradation, and I returned to live along with 10 other people in an old room of the family home. Better half the affliction, than the whole calamity.”

Shadows Cast by the Candle and Barking Dogs

The life of Um Aziz, 30, is not much different from that of Abu Khaled’s. She is the mother of four young children – the eldest of whom is twelve years old. She could not find anything other than an aluminum ‘zinco’ tent in Gaza for herself and her children, after her husband was imprisoned for failing to pay the rent for four months.

“Before he went to prison, I asked my husband to find us a house to live in. He replied with, it looks like our only option is the little patch of land that belongs to my cousin Abu al-Abd. He is abroad and it is abandoned. I will sell some furniture and buy supplies to build an aluminum ‘zinco’ tent. Living in it is better than being homeless and living on the sidewalks of the city streets.”

Um Aziz continues, “It is difficult to live in the 21st century in a primitive manner – in the winter, it’s like a pool, and in the summer an oven. There is no electricity or water, as if you are living in a desert. Your home is crowded with rodents and mice that scamper across it freely. It lacks all services, but there is nothing that can be done.”

“Everything in the house is terrifying,” she continues, “Even the candle that is supposed to be a source of light has become a nightmare that haunts me and keeps me up at night. I am afraid it will burn me and my children. While we are asleep, I also keep imagining that any shape in front of me is actually a predator coming to devour us. With the barking of dogs, you feel as if your end is near.”

Speaking of one of the most difficult situations that Um Aziz went through, she tells Raseef22, “The day a rock fell on my daughter’s head, I saw her drowning in her own blood. I thought she died, but our Lord wrote a new life for her.”

She concludes her story with, “By God, our situation does not please a loved one or angers an enemy, but God is kind and we live in hope.”

“They Demolished our Home”

Because the family home wasn’t spacious enough, 20-year-old Ahmed Abu Khashbah, was forced to get married and move into a rented apartment. Its rent exceeded $150 US dollars, which is too high a cost compared to the salary he gets paid. Thus, he could not continue to reside in his rented apartment.

Ahmed tells Raseef22, “I sold my wife’s gold and jewelry so that I could build a small house on government land.”

He adds, “Unfortunately, it was a joy that was never completed. Following just one month of living there, a police force accompanied by members from the Gaza Land Authority raided our house and ordered us to evacuate in order to carry out the demolition. This came after a number of notices were issued to vacate the government land.”

He continues, “Any sort of broken and desperate plea failed to stand before the bulldozers that arrived like raging bulls, crushing all that stands in their way – whether it be hope, human, or stone.”

He concludes with, “They demolished our house, turning it into a pile of dust and rubble that is nothing like a home and doesn’t protect from dangers. Oh my sorrow, we ‘could not take the grapes of the Levant or the dates of Yemen’ [we didn’t get either piece of the pie] – both the wife’s jewelry and the house are gone.”

Everything in the house is terrifying. Even a candle–supposed to be a source of light–I fear will burn me and my children. While we sleep, I imagine any form is a predator here to devour us. With the dogs barking you feel as if the end is near

Dr. Ibrahim Sa’ad, professor of mental health, comments on the state of citizens without any homes or housing, saying to Raseef22, “Losing a home constitutes a cruel and difficult experience. It creates a sense of injustice, persecution, and anger – especially among children – because it uproots them from their environment and exposes them to multiple dangers and risks, at a time when they are in dire need of protection and stability.”

“Those who live far from their homes and neighborhoods often feel lost and dispersed, which contributes to their loss of self-confidence, and as a result, they begin displaying or experiencing aggressive behavior.”

Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Gaza, Naji Sarhan, indicates that the sector suffers from a shortage of housing units estimated at 120 thousand units, in addition to its need for 14 thousand housing units annually to meet the natural increase in housing demand.

Sarhan attributes the continued and worsening suffering of families living in rented homes to the difficult economic situation and the punitive measures against Gaza, which includes the failure to pay Palestinian Authority employees their full salaries, as well as the lack of regular salaries for Gaza employees for many years.

Naji Sarhan adds, “The ministry in Gaza has no resources and funds needed to control this phenomenon, as a large portion of Palestinians live in rented houses.”

As a temporary option, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing is providing a number of ‘caravans’ for a small number of families.

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